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Our Favorite Books for Nonprofit Communicators

When you open a book, you have the potential to improve your life—reduce stress, strengthen memory, sleep better—but when you work in the social impact space, your reading has the potential to improve lives all around you. Nonprofit communications books and nonprofit branding books can change the way you connect with audiences, colleagues, and constituents.

Picking up a new book can be one of the most humbling, empathy-bridging experiences. Without leaving our front doors, we can travel oceans, visit ancestors, experience life in another’s shoes. And we can do this all in service of improving our roles as catalysts for social change.

Right now, we’re nearing summer’s start. For many, that means more time to unplug and kick back with a nice book. The team at Constructive has gathered eight of our favorite all-time books for people looking to amplify their social impact or nonprofit communications. The books have broadened our perspectives and made us better storytellers. Above all, they’ve changed the way we see the world and understand our place in it. We hope they bring you the same fulfillment!

Engine of Impact by William F. Meehan III and Kim Starkey Jonker

Engine of Impact was written for dissatisfied doers. We all work in the nonprofit space to drive positive social change. Whether that’s in healthcare, education, or the environment, we’re here because we’re not satisfied with the status quo. If you want to continue building up engines for social change and amplify their impact, Engine of Impact was written for you. Drawing on decades of research, lived experience, and classroom teachings, the book creates a clear roadmap for cultivating high-achieving, high-impact social impact organizations. The powerful ideas behind Engine of Impact make it a must-read for any leader in the nonprofit space.

Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree Brown

Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds revolves around the simple but inevitable truth that change is constant. The book explores self-help, society-help, and planet-help as tools for shaping the lives we want to lead. Adrienne Maree Brown’s book invites readers to, “feel, map, assess, and learn from the swirling patterns around us,” in order to understand and influence change. Published in 2017, the book serves as a guide for people in the social change space interested in intersectional solutions to society’s problems. Emergent Strategy blends careful philosophical examination with practical, powerful suggestions for facilitating social change.

The Brand IDEA by Nathalie Laidler-Kylander and Julia Shepard Stenzel

IDEA in The Brand IDEA: Managing Nonprofit Brands with Integrity, Democracy, and Affinity stands for Integrity, Democracy, and Affinity. The book offers insight for those looking to shed dated for-profit practices. Gone are the days of smoke and mirrors, secret board meetings, foggy finances. Social impact organizations are leading the charge, transforming the ways we work with participatory processes and partnerships. Successful workplaces are also tethered by a shared mission and shared values. The Brand IDEA explores how nonprofit leaders can understand the value of social impact brands, and how to cultivate them within a framework that reflects their values.

Blind Spot by Teju Cole

With breathtaking photography and evocative prose, Teju Cole’s Blind Spot lives at the intersection of lived experience and visual memory. Cole chronicles the beginning of his vision’s deterioration in this multimedia book that follows the author’s travels from Berlin to Brooklyn. In Blind Spot, Cole plays with perspective, inviting readers to join him in seeing magic in the mundane. More reflective than pragmatic, the book is an excellent meditation for communicators seeking to broaden their perspective and see the world through another’s creative lens.

Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild

Polarization might be the defining problem of our political era. In Strangers in Their Own Land, Arlie Russell Hochschild immerses herself in the community of Lake Charles, Louisiana to explore the importance of emotion in politics. Although toxic environmental pollution has destroyed livelihoods and lives around Lake Charles, the solutions are stymied by disagreement. When people resist help, it can be easy to leave them behind. However, Hochschild encourages readers to take trips over the “empathy wall” as a first step toward understanding and caring for people.

Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits by Debbie Millman

Is branding brainwashing, or is it simply a differentiator? Can a person be a brand? Is the word “brand” itself overused? In Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits, Debbie Millman takes the public discourse around branding “to the stratospheric level.” Interviewing some of the brightest marketing minds of our time, Millman explores what’s in a brand. The book considers the role brands play in society, technology, politics, economics, and psychology to help understand what makes people align with a sign, symbol, or movement.

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

The more we understand our world, the better we’ll be at designing products, services, and experiences that are kinder, more impactful, and fueled by empathy. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s essays on ecology remind us of the hidden super-connectedness of the natural world and our place within it. They also beautifully weave Indigenous wisdom and nature together in stories that are captivating and inspiring. The book serves as a reflection on the rich braid of reflections and experiences that shape our perception.

Facilitating Breakthrough by Adam Kahane

As cooperation across organizations, sectors, and continents expands, rallying people around a common goal gets complicated. Of course, you could drive alignment through the traditional top-down approach—sending requests, monitoring progress. There’s also the horizontal approach, letting people accompany change from the passenger seat. Or, you could practice something new: transformative facilitation, which cycles back and forth between vertical and horizontal approaches to empower and connect participants. Facilitating Breakthrough transcends sectors to help any organizer or leader practice transformative facilitation in order to break through barriers and drive change.

More on Nonprofit Branding

Interested in learning more about building up your nonprofit brand? Reach out to us or check out some of our favorite pieces on building up your nonprofit brand.

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